Sunday, May 26, 2013

CNG Compressor Set up in Indy

I had a trip this week to the Carrier/Bryant furnace factory in Indianapolis, Indiana.  The factory did not allow pictures (so all of our loss as all big factories are cool in general to walk through).

In route we took a short road trip to check out a very successful OEM re-fitter for compressed natural gas vehicles. We stopped by Green Alternative Systems (or G.A.S. as for the shortened logo name on their cards) to check out a conversion factory up lcose.  The other special reason for the visit was their inventory VPG MK-1 CNG vans (or cross overs, or whatever you'd call them).  Juaning Higgins pictured in the test drive below.

VPG has the MK-1 made by AM General at a former Hummer plant in Indiana. VPG is a start up auto manufacturer making a niche vehicle for transporting those in wheel chairs.  We saw these all over Chicago as cabs while we were there to. According to the Cabby driving one we talked to the City of Chicago has an ADA compliant requirement for taxi fleets in the city.  Also the lower cost of CNG as well as an incentive that CNG taxis go to the front of the line at O'Hare Airport make these popular among the drivers who can get them.  In fact the cabby we talked to said that if we were doing something with CNG he wanted to invest (which goes more to the point that there is a boom coming on this subject as speculators are already circling).

The MK-1 is designed specifically with special needs transportation.  Wide on the inside we couldn't help but notice it would make a really sweet service van.  No doubt these vehicles will possibly have a huge cross over potential especially with this factory CNG opportunity.  The sticker price on these high demand limited run vehicles is around $50,000.  From what we can figure that price tag is probably competitive in the ADA transportation business. No doubt retrofits after the factory are probably extremely expensive and a short run vehicle like this cannot be inexpensive.

LUBRICANT NERD ALERTWhen we drove the vehicle I had one thing I noticed.  The RPM on the dash lived above 3000.  So my experience of training as a driver I was instructed to keep the shifting below 3000 preferably at 2000. It just struck me that given the lean natural gas fuel the engine needs to run at a higher rate to get the same power. Something I will be looking at going forward as I get more familiar with CNG will be checking out oil samples out of these CNG engines.  No doubt there is more wear not less though the CNG sales men like to tell us we can extend oil drains due to the reduced emissions going into the oil I am not convinced.  No doubt higher RPMs is more heat, more wear, and therefore probably a special lubrication specification if you want to see them exceed 200,000 miles in their life.

What's cooler than a new car company start up?  The compressor they use to fill them and the Ford vehicles up with.  That was probably the highlight of the trip for me. Luckily they let me take pictures of the unit they rely on. Originally G.A.S. had a BRC Fuelmaker but this unit couldn't keep up with production. Hence they had a new rig assembled and installed.  

( NOTE: I am a layperson. A nerd layperson.  But still a layperson).
Below is what looks like to me to be the compressor and a flywheel no doubt attached to an electric motor below in the cabinet. I was not able to get a good look at the motor driving the compressor.

This is the path that natural gas at 10psi (according to our tour guide) moves its way into the compressor (in Oregon I have always been advised that the service side of a compressor would be under 5psi). Notice the water drain at the bottom left.  Pretty simple parts but no doubt thinking about cleaning up the gas off of the pipeline is an important part of these compressor lives.  No doubt moisture being a constant wear issue.

If the cabinet was not a dead give away about this being a fabricated one-off system the gauges will remove all doubt.  Notice the plastic carve out labels. I haven't seen this on a new installation in years. The whole system seems to be completely analog too. The gauges being the first give away on that.

Here is a picture of the fueling station.  I have seen in Oregon where they run ten or twenty feet of high pressure (3800 psi) stainless steel lines from the compressor to the fueling dispenser.   It never made sense to me. In Indy they obviously like simple and compact better.  There are two wands on the fueling location for two different sizes of refueling port that goes on the vehicle.  This was news to me as I had never heard that before.  A real important tid bit if you build your compressor set up and then find you've got a VHS vs Betamax design problem when you go to fuel.

Inside the compressor compartment there are three filter canisters.  Now of course these also might be pressure canisters for the three stages of refueling.  But I am not an engineer.  The guy on site couldn't answer what they were specifically.

A cool trip and very interesting to see what other markets are doing in the field. This trip to Indiana and Illinois just made me want to find my way to Pennsylvania where I hear the real gold rush for CNG is at.  From what I hear anecdotally they literally have people with expired wells on their property from a century ago and they are tapping these resources with a compressor and pumping natural gas for free out of the ground. I'd be real curious to take a tour of old petroleum country and see it for myself for sure.